Ditchling Beacon

 Date climbed  21st August 2014
 Elevation gain  464 feet
 Length  0.9 mile
 Duration  9 minutes

I climbed this hill on this ride. I had read so many scary stories about this hill that I was really psyched up on the lead up to it. Wild exaggerations of its gradient didn’t help; people have reported 18% and more on the steepest parts.

Furthermore, the site I use for route-planning, ridewithgps.com (which I nevertheless highly recommend), quoted the maximum gradient as 17.8% and showed the predicted elevation map like this:DB grad

When I saw this image I couldn’t believe that the road actually descended three times during the climb, so I sort of ignored that fact and also assumed that their maximum gradient was wrong too. Apart from the overall height gain and the distance, the other thing that is correct on this image is the fact that the road eases periodically during the climb.

So, suitably braced, I made the climb. It starts off fairly steep, nothing too serious. Then just around the bend it eases slightly. Oh, I thought – that’s not too bad. Then it rises steeper again for a while. Then it backs off again as you reach the bit with the good view to your left. You can’t really get a good look because it’s sort of behind you to the left, but it’s enough to get the feeling that you have climbed really high. Anyway, on with the climb. I knew from having studied Simon Warren’s book that there was more steepness to come. The road bends right, away from the view, and back into tree cover for the final push to the end. Then the tree cover ends and the road flattens out at the top, and that’s all there is to it. And just to confirm, at no stage does it go downhill!

Compared to what I had been expecting, I found this climb relatively easy. I went up the whole thing in second gear and only got out of the saddle a couple of times. The thing I found easy is that the shape of the climb allows you to ease off about three times during the ride and, on the steep sections you can always see the road becoming less steep just up ahead. So it’s not one of those hills, like Hollingbourne, that gets progressively steeper.

The fact I went up this sitting down in second gear after having already cycled 68 miles is a good indication that any talk of 18% is just wrong. My Garmin measured it like so:

DB Garmin rd

As you can see, it didn’t really register those 2 or 3 easy bits, Well the first one can be seen I guess. This image from the book is more representative of what I felt during the ride:

DB_SW

Based on experience and what I felt on the day, I would say that it’s mainly about 12%, possibly 15% on the steeper bits. Ordnance Survey maps label it with a single chevron, indicating a gradient of at least 14% at its steepest.

I’m still finding it hard to believe that it was so easy. I will say that I had a favourable wind, and that always helps. But I’m wondering if all the anticipation of it had somehow prepared my body for it, making it seem easier than it is? [Although that hadn’t happened on other hills, like Cob Lane or York’s. When I climb those, my lungs feel like they are bursting.] There’s only one way to be sure – I’ll have to go and do it again!

Addendum October 18th 2014:

Since that report I have been up DB again on The Mid-Sussex Hillier audax. This time there was no tail wind. In fact there was a strong southerly wind, although it didn’t seem to effect me as the leeward road is quite sheltered. This time it came at the end of a very hilly ride. Again I went up it in second gear. So really it’s not too tough a climb, just a steady slog.

Towards the west c

View to the west from Ditchling Beacon


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